Hughes Cattle Co. of Bartlesville, OK, — owned and operated by John and Robert Hughes — is BEEF magazine's National Stocker Award (NSA) winner for 2006.

When BEEF established the NSA program — sponsored by Elanco Animal Health — the idea was fairly simple: identify and recognize the top stocker operators in the nation, and showcase what enables them to thrive in this high-risk business. Easier said than done.

An evaluation committee representing private industry and academics, with specialists in stocker health, stocker nutrition and stocker economics, sifted through nominees from 12 states.

Competition was divided into three categories: backgrounding/drylot stocker (feed-based); fall/winter stockering (forage-based); and summer stockering (forage-based). A single winner was chosen in each category, and the overall selected from these finalists.

The Hughes operation — John bought his first stockers in 1958 — was named winner of the summer category en route to the overall title. From the very beginning, this operation has focused on grass production first and foremost to increase carrying capacity. The operation remains grounded in commonsense basics but continues to innovate, as with a unique pilot study they're conducting with a sale barn and feedlot: each entity shares equal ownership in cattle. then divvies any profit or loss equally at the end.

Triple Heart Ranch at Wanette, OK, was the finalist in the backgrounding/drylot category. Besides providing custom backgrounding for others, along with running some of their own cattle, owners Brock and Shelia Karges have pioneered a service to help cow-calf producers realize added value from providing additional animal-health assurance.

Doug Rogers, who owns and operates D&H Cattle Co., at Collins, MS, was named finalist in the fall/winter stockering category. He chose the stocker business because he saw more business opportunity than with any of the enticing corporate offers that came his way after graduating from West Point and business school. He uses lightweight calves and aggressive health management as a hedge in the marketplace.

As overall winners, Hughes Cattle Co. receives $10,000 cash from Elanco Animal Health, along with an expenses-paid trip to the 2007 NCBA Cattle Industry Annual Convention.

Triple Heart and D&H each receive a $2,500 cash prize from Elanco.